Why managers need the respect of their subordinates

In a recent post on management I said this:

If [your subordinates] don’t like you, they won’t mutiny but they can make your life an awful lot harder (which I’ll write about in another post).

So here goes. Back when I worked in Sakhalin, I had a Russian working for me called Ilya who few people liked. However, I’ve found I sometimes get on okay with people who nobody else likes, probably because I approach them a bit differently. One client I had for the best part of a year was absolutely detested by everyone around him, and mainly for good reasons. But he wasn’t that bad, and I realised that by telling him the truth rather than lying to his face as everyone else had done, I saw a side of him I could work with. He appreciated the honesty, and we got along well enough.

Anyway, nobody liked Ilya but he worked for me and I had no complaints, or at least not serious ones. Now at some point we won a piece of work which involved piping insulation. My business unit used to get all its insulation from the main project down at the LNG site, where they kept all the machinery, inventory, and expertise. This was run by a chap named Rick, who I wrote about here. Rick had known Ilya for a long time and didn’t like him, although this manifested itself in the form of mockery and derision rather than acts of spite and nastiness. Ilya, being project manager, had the task of going to see Rick and ordering the insulation materials. He walked into Rick’s office on the site and said:

“Hi Rick. We need eight-hundred metres of foam glass insulation cut to 256mm inside radius.”

Rick looked at him, deadpan. “No, you don’t,”  he said, and went back to whatever he was doing.

“Yes we do,” said llya. “It’s for this new job, we need it.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Oh c’mon Rick, we’ve been through this, you guys need to supply us with insulation materials.”

Rick leaned back in his chair. “Ilya, who said you needed eight-hundred metres of foam glass insulation cut to 256mm?”

“I did, I measured it.”

“And are you sure that’s correct?”

“Yes.”

“Well it’s not,” Rick said and adopted his most patronising voice. “We never cut to 256mm inside radius, that wouldn’t fit any pipe I’ve ever heard of. Now what you’ve done is taken the centre radius, which is the sort of mistake f*ckwits who don’t know what they’re doing make.  What I expect you need is an inside diameter of 235mm. Is the pipe 9 inches?”

“Yes.”

“Then that’s what you’ll need. I’ll cut the stuff for you by Friday, but next time don’t walk in here with the I’m-a-big-boss attitude.”

I knew about this because Rick told me the story a few days later. He said he would have been quite happy to have cut Ilya 800m metres of utterly useless foam glass insulation and let him embarrass himself on site, but I got on well with Rick and he knew it would ultimately be bad for me. So he put Ilya straight and did the job properly.

Now Rick wasn’t my subordinate, but he might as well have been in the context of that particular task. If I’d taken the approach that everyone must do as I say because I’m in charge, I’d have ended up explaining to a client why I couldn’t fit the insulation I’d just shipped to their site and explaining to my own boss why we were scrapping a few thousand dollars worth of materials. When I was at university a fellow student asked the lecturer why it was necessary to earn the respect of subordinates and contractors if you are the one in charge. The lecturer told a story very similar to the one I’ve just recounted, a situation where a contractor was under no obligation to help their client out of a serious jam but did so out of mutual respect. I forgot a lot of stuff I was taught at university, but I never forgot that.

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25 thoughts on “Why managers need the respect of their subordinates

  1. I think you should buy Brigette Hyacinth’s books on leadership.

    I always imagined these books were bought by the same sort of people who turn up at creative writing classes.

  2. What level of education was the person who can’t work out that a sleeve needs to have the same ID as the OD of the item its fitting around?

  3. What level of education was the person who can’t work out that a sleeve needs to have the same ID as the OD of the item its fitting around?

    It’s a bit more complicated than that. Nominal pipe diameters are just that, and don’t give you the outside diameter. For that you need to look at the piping class, then consult a table. Then when you spec the insulation you have to use the centre radius for some reason I’ve forgotten. It’s not that complicated, but not as easy as matching nominal pipe diameter to the inside radius of the insulation piece.

  4. It’s all part of your reputation in the business (and its suppliers and subcontractors), i.e. your personal ‘brand’. If you have built up respect in that, you will get such helpful correction of errors, whether made by you or by others reporting to you. Line authority has nothing to do with it.
    A good personal brand will counter a large amount of junior problems.
    Just be sure the request carries your name: in your anecdote you were fortunate Rick knew the request came from you ultimately.

    It’s going to be interesting to read entries over the next year, as your years of real leadership and management from your oil career come up against MBA-ism. Thanks for the insights.

  5. er…
    go to pipe
    place tape measure round it
    divide by pi

    I recommend this method because it allows even the knuckle draggers to ask a pertinent question or supply feedback.
    In academic circles this is known as management by walking around.

  6. Imagine you were on Ilyas project team, if he is doing the takeoffs, ordering and fetching then you would be a pretty lowly grafter. Never mind that he is getting it badly wrong.

    I don’t like Ilya either and think that he should be shown the door. How long has that loser being getting away with it, is all I can say about the useless idiot.

    Rick should have abused him and told him he was a complete arsehole and that he had better get out of his sight and never come back, or else.

  7. I realised that by telling him the truth rather than lying to his face as everyone else had done, I saw a side of him I could work with.

    I’m struck in general by how many stories from the field of successful leadership really summarize to “I wasn’t an asshole, and that worked”.

    I’ve been within the blast radius of a number of HR disasters that could have been completely avoided by the simple expedient of everyone behaving with the barest minimum of professionalism, and reserving work-inappropriate behaviours for outside the office.

    As for the story of Rick and Ilya, it sounds like you’ve got an incompetent and an asshole butting heads. I’m of the opinion that Rick’s a bigger problem than Ilya; he clearly gets off on humiliating people and that’s toxic over the long term.

  8. “It’s all part of your reputation in the business”

    Yep and carrying useless staff like Ilya is not only bad for your reputation, it is bad for business and bad for your long term employment prospects. Everything has a budget, budgets cannot be set around guys like Ilya, so that means that costs are exceeding budget, profit is gone or you could even be upside down. Which means no bonus, fuck that, the dumb Russian needs to go now and also be made an example of, this is what happens if you don’t make the grade.

    Rick needs to wipe that smirk of his face and get a good kick up the arse as well for letting this situation go on for so long. Does he think that we pay him for sitting on his fat arse and not taking responsibility, since when has it been okay for him to countenance this kind of performance, does he think that the accommodation he is staying in is free, no wonder he is on low pay and never gets a bonus, if it happens again he is gone.

    As for Ilyas manager he was sacked and is out on the next chopper.

  9. @William of O

    An internationally acclaimed leadership guru with a Master’s degree in Business administration, Brigette is sought out by CEOs all over the world for her leadership insights. She has provided one on one coaching sessions to many top level executives around the globe. Additionally, she is also a ghost writer…

    Cos when you’re among the world’s foremost business leaders and thinkers, there’s nothing like a bit of ghostwriting on the side after a hard day at work to help pay those pesky bills.

    Bonus marks for getting “additionally… also” into the “sell myself as a writer” sentence.

  10. Bonus marks for getting “additionally… also” into the “sell myself as a writer” sentence.

    Heh! Well spotted.

  11. @MyBurningEars,

    Sure. But she’s got a million followers on LinkedIn, so she’s clearly an influencer on the subject of leadership.

    It’s so easy to criticise but harder to create.

    Ok, I’m being sarcastic. Her snake oil business fascinates me. It’s like the Chad Valley version of Tony Robbins.

  12. Bardon
    Obviously you’ve got both the experience and the expertise.
    How many times have you seen a well qualified xy get the right answer to 3 decimals but get the order of magnitude wrong? And how many times has this error gone up the line with no one noticing?
    Personally I prefer a bit of common dog fuck. If it’s roughly OK we can adapt minor variations, which will happen anyway. If it’s out 10x we’re screwed.

  13. Well-spotted!

    Only because I do the same all the time, so have got used to needing to look back through what I wrote to cut the extraneous. Or just to look at it in embarrassment if the email is already sent or the comment is already posted.

    She also managed “internationally”, “all over the world” and “around the globe” in quick succession, and using “one-on-one” as an adjective requires some hyphens. I don’t know how I’d cope with reading a tome of her work.

    It’s so easy to criticise but harder to create.

    Sarcastic but true. If she’s better known than me, richer than me, and in a bigger house than me, despite me having far more letters after my name, then she seems to possess a kind of smarts that I’m lacking.

    And yes, I also look on in awe at flim-flam merchants, “social influencers”, youtube “personalities”, those Macedonian genuinely-fake-news factories, modern art dealers, modern artists, salespeople of all stripes and politicians, and wonder … how on earth did they manage that? Could I reverse-engineer it? What was their secret? How dirty would I feel if I replicated even a tenth of it?

    To bring things full circle, I went down an interesting wormhole a few years ago when the “acai berry” scam was all over the internet (particularly common at the bottom of WordPress blogs). A behind a lot of it turned out to be a “marketing” company, if that’s not too polite a way of putting a bunch of fraudsters, run by a chap who taught MBAs at a fairly prestigious Spanish business school. And I couldn’t work out whether that was an advertisement for the benefits of the school and its MBA, or not…

  14. I’m with Daniel Ream.

    Ilya maybe needed to be got rid of, but I don’t think too much of Rick either. Rick, saying “… which is the sort of mistake f*ckwits who don’t know what they’re doing make.” to Ilya is pretty much demanding a grudge, violence and / or sabotage.

    I have 5 construction workers and laborers working for me. I can live with a marginally competent / incompetent guy if he has some strengths, but nasty pricks I get rid of ASAP.

  15. This tale is of a similar bent involving someone I’ll call Steve to save Steve’s embarrassment and Peter, a toolmaker (again, to save Peter any embarrassment, I’ll call him Peter).

    In the Aerospace company I worked for, we had a process called red lining – if a document (drawing, specification, written instruction) appears wrong, the shop floor worker goes to the relevant person and points out the discrepancy. After discussion, if the error is genuine, then the qualified person uses a red pen to cross out the error, writes the correct thing in, signs and dates it and then gets a second person to sign and date it in red. It stops work coming to a halt for no good reason,the supervisor and quality guys don’t tick the guys off for not working to the instructions and the drawing etc. is updated in due course. All good so far.

    One day Peter walked in with a drawing and declared “This needs red lining”. Steve, well known for being an awkward bar steward who had been there since Methuselah had a paper round stated (without looking at the drawing) “No it doesn’t – I know what I am doing”.

    Much discussion ensued, involving the matrimonial state of both their parents, anatomical comparisons (Tims advertisers are sensitive about swearing, right?) and the sex life (or lack thereof) of the duo.

    Peter stormed out and Steve looked smug, having prevailed.

    Peter came back about an hour later carrying a dust pan full of steel turnings and the drawing. He put the drawing on Steve’s desk and poured the turnings over the drawing and most of the desk and said “That’s what you get when you specify an internal diameter larger than the external diameter”. Peter left it at that and walked out while Steve watched the suds soak into his paperwork.

    He had, of course, opened up an old drawing, altered a few dimensions and bunged it out without checking.

    Definitely one of the better days in the office, that was …

  16. Sometimes God works in a mysterious way. I had a dude lined up for termination on a Monday and he surprised me and resigned on the Friday before.

    Happy days!

    Blessed is the peacemaker.

    From: Bardon
    Sent: Saturday, 29 September 2018 12:26 PM
    To: Country Director
    Subject: Status

    Country Director,

    As discussed, given the Ridgebacks recent action, he now represents a critical risk to our entire business enterprise in XXXX, which is completely unacceptable and will need to cease immediately.

    I am getting advice on his exit procedure and expect to know shortly.

    Will come back on recommendation.

    From: Bardon
    Sent: Thursday, 4 October 2018 8:49 AM
    To: Country Director
    Subject: Confidential

    Country Director,

    I will have a teleconference with the Dead Man Walking on Monday and will advise him that:

    1. Due to XXXXX you have incurred serious and irreparable damage with respect to your loyalty, trustworthiness and intentions. You obviously have been conspiring for some time with other parties to write up this comprehensive term sheet.

    2. This is totally unacceptable conduct and you are no longer fit to be an employee and will now be leaving us because of this.

    3. I will give you a one time only, take it or leave it offer, of three months’ pay to sign a mutual termination agreement. This is slightly more favourable than your benefit on termination and would be looked on favourably with any regulatory investigation if you want to go down that path.

    4. You have 24 hours to decide, if you reject this offer, then I will suspend you immediately, you will leave the office, you will hand over all company property, including your vehicle whilst I prepare your disciplinary notice, which will be immediate termination based on your gross misconduct and the payout will be based on the numbers below.

    5. Which way do you want to go?

    Tuesday will be his last day with us one way or another. I will talk to our Heavy Guy about getting someone from the ANC to attend the first meeting and to take his stuff off him on day two. Don’t think it is appropriate that our local Sheila does this.

    From: Dead Man Walking
    Sent: Friday, 5 October 2018 3:23 PM
    To: Bardon
    Subject: Dead Man Walking resignation letter 05-10-2018

    Dear Bardon,

    I made attempts to call you earlier. I would like to chat to you personally regarding the attached letter of resignation.

    Regards,

    Dead Man Walking

    From: Bardon
    Sent: Friday, October 5, 2018 8:54 AM
    To: Dead Man Walking
    Subject: Dead Man Walking resignation letter 05-10-2018

    Dead Man Walking.

    As discussed we hereby accept your resignation and as a gesture of good will I will pay your notice out and you can leave us after you have handed over our vehicle and information on Monday.

    Good luck with your new venture with your son.

    Can you please prepare a handover list, I will talk to you about this and your final payout figure.

    Have a good weekend

    Bardon

    From: Dead Man Walking
    Sent: Friday, 5 October 2018 5:07 PM
    To: Bardon
    Subject: Ridgeback resignation letter 05-10-2018

    Dear Bardon,

    I will do as suggested on Monday 8th October and vacate by end-of-day after a proper hand-over/take-over.

    I count you as a personal friend of my son and I going forward. I have the greatest respect for the Country Director and as said by telephone, I am certainly not burning my bridge with the company.

    I hope in my heart that I can ultimately be a long term blessing to the Company in sourcing works that will be of mutual benefit and ongoing working relationships in a new dimension.

    I have to get my son and I to New Delhi on the 12th October next week, so any advance pay or financial assistance will be greatly appreciated now and in the future.

    God bless you Bardon, you are a “Man of Peace” to me and my family. Amen. (I will light a candle & say a prayer for you !!) Ha ha.

    Kindest regards,

    Dead Man Walking

  17. @zut alors – “How many times have you seen a well qualified xy get the right answer to 3 decimals but get the order of magnitude wrong?”

    In one of my previous lifes one of our employees was killed when a suspended pipe, fell and crushed him. This was during the construction of the Lihir Gold Mine in New Britain, PNG. I had to investigate the fatality on behalf of my company.

    The reason that the pipe fell was that the welded on lifting lug, failed under load, the lug broke free of the pipe and the pipe fell, crushing and killing the employee below that was slinging it.

    Turns out that the design engineer in Brisbane had a decimal place wrong in his calculations. From memory he had designed the lug for a 6 tonne capacity, but had inadvertently got a decimal point wrong and it was calculated out at 0.6T 600kg, which is why it failed under load. He actually took it pretty bad and received counselling.

    My finding was that the poor fellow was the author of his own misfortune as our firms golden rule was never to stand under a suspended load, the deceased was aware of and had acknowledged this requirement and had contravened our strict lifting procedure. Hard hats mean nothing in this situation either.

    His direct family were looked after and the matter was closed and the local authority accepted our findings that it was a workplace fatality, recognised that we had properly compensated his next of kin and that his death was not a criminal matter.

    I miss receiving incident reports from PNG, I relished reading the root causes that the local fellows would put on the report.

    Truck Overturn – Driver swerved to avoid “the Spirit Lady” and lost control, kind of things.

  18. Another more recent tale from earlier this year of unsatisfactory subordinates that I was going to terminate but didn’t need to, due to the intervention of God or Allah as the case may be.

    Yes, it is important that your subordinates have respect for you, but there is a far more important obligation placed on any manager that is far more critical to the relationship than the level of respect that they have for you. I will describe it in the overall context to impart how these types of things happen at the worst possible time and why you must get rid of poor performers as soon as it becomes apparent that they are and before they adversely affect your business and cause real material harm to all the organisations stakeholders. So, bear with me here as I set the scene as it is important to understand how and when it occurs is when you are least prepared for it. Because eventually it will, and you will have contributed to this situation by not acting on your instincts and you will live to regret it, at least from a moral point of view.

    In February I had to fly to Singapore from Brisbane for an impromptu meeting called by a client about a major dispute that we were having with them on a project in Africa. This was on a Tuesday (day 1) I wore my suit and had a hand carry case that fitted in the overhead cabin with enough personal effects for a two to three night stay in Singapore max with hotel dry cleaning services and did not have any need to bring larger check in luggage for this relatively short return trip.

    I attended the meetings over the next few days which were protracted although productive and resulted in the need for me to stay longer in Singapore over the weekend whilst we prepared schedules, costings and methodologies etc that we believed would result in a resolution to the impasse that we were at with our client on the following Monday. I was coordinating the development and submission of these documents from various staff around the world, over the weekend from my very comfortable and plush hotel room, so no real problem so far. On Sunday evening my client rang to say that his client has requested a meeting in Accra, Ghana to discuss the resolution and my attendance was mandatory. Some good searching, colour scanning and communications with Mrs Bardon at home provided me with my Yellow Fever and vaccination log book in order to allow me to enter Ghana.

    I flew to Ghana via Dubai on the Monday evening (day 7) from Singapore and when disembarking at the Transit stop in Dubai realised that I had lost my reading glasses, which I cannot do without. After an unsuccessful panicked search which involved the cabin crew stripping the seat, I realised they were lost and maybe I left them in the departure lounge bar. I quickly found a chemist in the airport and bought some magnifying spectacles, that weren’t as chic as the one that I lost.

    Had a shower and freshened up for the flight to Ghana and arrived in Accra on the Tuesday (day 8). Very protracted negotiations in Accra, ultimatums, bluffs, tantrums, culminating in it boiling down to us seeking to reduce our total contract liability fivefold. I was sitting in the hotel breakfast room after another sleepless night knowing full well that if I didn’t pull this off we would lose all of our newly purchased and expensive equipment that was on the client’s site, our overdue payments would not be made and we would be contractually liable for a damages amount that would put us out of business.

    Our client and their client weren’t having a bar of it, he (Italian man) actually told me that he would confiscate our equipment and said that none of us would leave the country and made a scissors cutting gesture of our Ghanaian visas in our passports (he done this twice later with me) I was convinced that we still had the upper hand and could pull it off and should hold out a few days longer. My MD had a call with my clients, clients’ director and they conceded some liability but not as low as I was holding out for. My MD told me to negotiate this one and I said that we shouldn’t and that we should hold out. The Construction Director rang me and agreed that we should hold out which we did. On the Friday afternoon I met with my client’s director (another Italian) again and he said, no deal, I explained that we were in the process of remobilising which was true, and I would now shut it down and cancel flights etc. He wavered, I asked him what he could do, and he said that the only thing left for him was the he could do go to his client and get them to take the risk of the reduced liability. I said that we wouldn’t stop the remobilisation for another 24 hours but that he must confirm either way by tomorrow Saturday. I informed my directors of this and felt relatively confident that we would get the result.

    By this the stage the bartenders in all the many bars in the hotel I was staying at knew me as Jamieson, and had the delivery of my double Jamieson, ice and soda in a tall glass underway as soon as they spotted me hurriedly walking towards them.

    Saturday (day 12) was one of those days I hate, the waiting game, I went down to Jamestown (not the whisky) hired a guide and he took me around the old fishing village and took me to see where the first slaves were corralled and shipped to America, I gave my guide a massive tip and then drove around Accra markets and back to the hotel bar, had a few drinks with some interesting new guests from the UN. No fucking letter yet and it was around four o’clock, not looking good I thought to myself, but at least I was far better off than those poor souls that were rounded up, shackled and transported in ship holds to America. Rung my sister in the UK, Ghana is behind UK time, had something to eat with my Jameson’s, then went back up to my room. It was dark by then and the Construction Director rung me and asked if we were on, I said that I hadn’t heard back, he said that he thought it was off and he was pulling the pin and he was going to cancel flight etc. I said that I would call my opponent, which is something that I never do at this juncture and come back to him, every time I have had to do this it normally means it’s not going my way, I sat down in my room, finished my glass of Jameison, grabbed my phone and noticed an incoming email from my client with a letter attached. I swear to god I was convinced at that point after the depressing call from my boss that the letter was going to be them terminating our contract for default, but it wasn’t, it was their unconditional acceptance of all our terms!

    Hit the town that night, big time, lovely people the Ghanaians I am very impressed with them and their friendliness.

    Sunday, got up and went to mass.

    Monday (day 14) signed the amended agreement with our new favourable terms. Client and my boss asked me to sit on in Accra for a few days until everything was back in place and up and running. Separately and during the time since I had left Brisbane another African client of ours wanted to conclude a final settlement negotiation for a long overdue and significant payment for another contract that we had completed over a year ago. They are listed on Johannesburg Stock Exchange and they wanted to do the negotiation in Joburg. I agreed to nip down from Accra to finalise the settlement on my way back to Brisbane. Even though there was not that much to discuss with this Joburg client I thought to myself that I would allow for an initial meeting, some consideration and a final concluding meeting the next day. So, I booked myself on the direct Joburg to Sydney flight for Friday evening.

    Wednesday (day 16) Escape form Accratraz complete and arrive in Joburg that evening. Check into my usual suite at the Michelangelo, go downstairs to the restaurant, nice meat and cape red. Few emails and calls and off to bed. Slept well.

    Thursday meet with client, negotiations run smoothly we come up with an acceptable resolution and payment plan, signed off and leave happy days. How good has this trip been for me, called the travel agent to bring forward my flight a day but there are no earlier seats available. No problem I had a meeting the next morning and then I will kick back a bit and go for a big dinner with a colleague in the Butchers Shop in Sandton Square (thanks TNA) and switch off on the back end of the trip thinking about how much my bonus should be.

    Friday morning (day 18), receive a call from my MD that we have had a fatality on a project in Muscat, Oman and that I will need to get up there as soon as possible. Apparently, it’s not a good scene and our two expat mangers on site are freaking out and considering leaving the country immediately as they fear that they will be arrested by the police. Speak to both staff and settle them down a bit and discover that we have no legal representation in Oman. There are no flights available to Muscat from Joburg, at least on an airline that I would fly with, there is one seat left on a Saturday flight via Dubai first class for the price equivalent to a Baltic countries GDP, take it. Call our guys to let them know when I am getting in and they are crying on the phone, yuck.

    Saturday fly to Muscat, get in on Sunday morning (Day 20). The first thing I notice about our Country Manger is that he isn’t that good at picking folk up at an airport and blames it on the locals, the second thing is that he has a full suit on a coat hanger hung in the back of his Toyota Land Cruiser. We visit the scene of the incident and take some pictures, then I interview the other expat our Construction Manager. The other staff don’t speak English, they are Pakistanis and Indians although the Safety Officer is an Omani and does speak English. I go back to my room for a sleep and invite the two expats to my hotel bar in the evening. They come over have few drinks and I intentionally don’t talk about the incident but assure them that they won’t get locked up, I had received legal advice by then. I update my MD who is currently in final negotiations with a major financer and is unsure whether or not he needs to disclose this incident to them and the wider board formally. I advise against it. He asks to me to stay there until the incident investigation and outcome is finalised.

    The next day I confirm statements do a re-enactment and then attend a government and client meeting about the incident where on behalf of my company I express our regret and our condolences that a young husband and father of two could die this tragic way. Not my proudest moment. We then reconvene and work out what we are going to do over the next few days and I wanting to know when I was likely to get out of there and go home. I discovered that the deceased wasn’t insured and what went wrong and can quite clearly see where the two expats sat in the responsibility like for this indecent. The Construction Manager was actually standing right next to the guy that died when it happened, he was lucky it wasn’t him, he actually tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him at the scene. The Indian PM was very helpful dealing with the authorities attending court and arranging for the blokes remains to be released by the judge and repatriated to his family in Pakistan. I also discover what the going rate is for compensation and that the guys demanding it would keep it and the deceased wife would not receive anything. I am keeping my MD informed all along.

    We hold a meeting with a number of companies involved, none of the conversation is in English but I get the summary version and agree or otherwise. We reach resolution; the Judge declares it a workplace incident and orders us to pay compensation and releases his remains. We get them home.

    The Country Manger and then met with our client who has flown in from afar due to this fatality on his project. Not happy at all, he explains that they have just cancelled a forthcoming group wide safety award ceremony and were very disappointed and didn’t think that when they engaged us that something like this would happen. They are one of the biggest construction contractors in the world. He also said to our Country Manager that he was a fool to assume that just because a labour hire agreement required the firm to provide insurance for their staff that they had, this is Oman for god’s sake he said.

    I speak to my MD and we both agree that there was nothing more for me to do and that the we had some kind of handle on the incident no matter how tragic, the job would be shut down for a while and the expats should go home.

    Day 31, Arrive back in Brisbane. Ask my wife to take my suit to the dry cleaners and make an appointment with my optometrist so that I can read again.

    Discuss incident with my peers and we decide that the two expats that had returned home would not be coming back and will be terminated.

    The Country GM resigned during his initial return to Manchester.

    The Construction Manager who usually cycles on his own, had unusually joined a one-off group for some group cycling trip in his home town in Ireland. They stopped for a break and he had a massive heart attack, collapsed and was not responding until one of the party managed to get a defibrator from a nearby service station and they bumped him back to life.

    He says that he doesn’t want to return to construction.

    So, both of these subordinates had respect for me. But here is the problem part of it, earlier warning signs on their competency were ignored by me, if I had acted on this when they first became apparent maybe that man would not have died, and we wouldn’t have lost a tonne of money and a hugely important client.

    A year prior, I was travelling to Mozambique with the Construction Manager and we were flying in from Joburg to Maputo. I explained to him in the departures how to get through immigration at the Mozambique end, he listened and then said that he knew all of this anyway. We got there, I got through, he didn’t and was forced to return to Joburg. That meant that he couldn’t do the site inspection or plan the works and I had to lie to my client to say that he was there. In fact, I turned it into a joke and sent a coded email to a few or our guys including him as follows:

    CNN Breaking – Top IRA Fugitive Nabbed at Maputo Airport

    Later when constructing the job he made a seriously bad decision that put a significant element of the project at risk, he knew that I was worried about it, he knew the time difference between Mozambique and Brisbane yet he sent me an email with a heading along the lines of “This is going to be a complete disaster” with nothing else and he knew that when I read that first thing on my Saturday morning that I would have to suffer and sweat for about eight hours until it was morning there and I could ring him to discuss it with him.

    That was the first time that I had met the Country Manager, although I had heard that when he started with us in Doha that he wore leather trousers. He cried on the phone to me, he couldn’t pick me up properly at an airport, he had a suit hanging in the back of his Landcruiser in Oman and he didn’t think to check if his third country national labour force actually had valid insurance cover in place. I don’t beat myself up about this chap as much as the other, the leather trousers were a warning sign and I am sure that there were others that our management that did know him had seen and probably ignored.

    So, the moral of this little story of mine is that no matter how clever and successful you think you are, and maybe are, the biggest problems that we all face as humans, is that we make mistakes, and these mistakes can kill people and destroy families, careers, wealth and organisations.

    This is why you must always act on the warning signs, irrespective of whether an employee respects you or not.

  19. This is why you must always act on the warning signs, irrespective of whether an employee respects you or not.

    In short, mutual respect between managers and their subordinates is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of efficient and effective business.

  20. Ninety per cent of the shit you go through in life comes from doing business with the wrong people.

    The other ninety per cent comes from damn stupid things you say.

    Then of course marrying the wrong person is a whole new ballgame and that’s where “order of magnitude” applies to the size of the shit heap.

  21. Re. Checking the numbers. A certain USA hard Mars landing comes to mind.
    And then there is Hubble telescope.
    On being respectful to others. Never assume on first encounter that the scruffy one in a bunch is of no consequence. He/she could be the boss/owner.
    In one case the sergeant in an African defence force was the son of the tribe chief whereas the Major was just a tribe member. Guess which one was the real chef.
    I worked in a team where visitors always assumed that the idle one in the suit was the boss, but the boss was getting stuck in with the rest of us.
    Always be equally respectful of all other contractor or customer staff. If they respect their boss good words about you will be passed up.
    And anyway, having the workers on your side is good regardless of their opinion of their boss. They will give you early warning of impending technical problems and you can address them before the shitograms start flying.
    Never lie to your own people, co-contractors or to the customer. You will be found out and your reputation is shredded.
    I always said that I saved my lie for the ultimate, shit-or-bust situation. Never had to do it and now all that is behind me in retirement.
    I have lots of friends all over world, even among competitors, whom I also treated with respect.
    After all with company take overs and mergers you might be working with them one day.

  22. @Doonhammer

    My firm just got awarded a major project in Queensland by a top tier Australian organisation. The client chartered a boat on Wednesday so that we could sail up to an island that we will be working on. I went along with a few of our guys and we met a lot of the clients project team for the first time on the boat.

    One of them was a Saffa from Durban, turns out he worked for a company that we acquired there and he knew most of the guys that still work for us there.

    Another, their Safety Manager was from York in England and he was asking about the sheikh that is a major shareholder in my firm. I explained that he was a pretty sound bloke and that he done his leadership training at Sandhurst. Turns out that the Englishman was ex Army Engineers and was at Sandhurst and may in fact have been there when our Sheikh was.

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